As a beer nerd and a smartphone addict, I absolutely love the fact that there is an app that caters to my vices. I log my beers religiously, often adding locations and photos. The ability to look back at beers I’ve consumed can be helpful because sometimes I simply can’t remember if I’ve had a beer before. There is, however, one feature that I no longer use. I don’t rate beers on Untappd anymore.
By this stage of the game, I’m sure that most beer drinkers are aware of the beer tracking app Untappd. This app allows you to log, rate and share beers that you are drinking. Like a social media platform, it allows you to follow friends; you can see what they have logged in and “toast” or comment on their selections. However, as with most addicting apps, there’s a gamesmanship aspect to Untappd, allowing you to earn badges based on what beers you log, where you log them from and when you log them.
Don’t get me wrong. Just because I’ve stopped rating beers, doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy using Untappd. For a forgetful guy like myself, this app is a convenient way to have my drinking history at my fingertips, and the ability to see what people are checking in nearby has definitely led to last minute changes to my drinking agenda.
My choice to stop rating beers is not because of a flaw in the app. It is because of a flaw in my mindset.
As the Night Goes On…
One major problem I have had with Untappd ratings tends to occur on high-volume drinking days. Drinking many different beers back-to-back can make it very difficult to remain objective while deciding on how many stars a given brew deserves (a concept that is already skewed by the users own palate.)
Something as simple as the order of consumption could have a profound impact on the way I rate certain beers. If I drank the world-class IPA immediately before a more ordinary “lawnmower IPA,” the second beer may seem lackluster or even poor by comparison. It becomes increasingly difficult to avoid these comparisons as the night rolls on, which is exceedingly unfair to the brewers who worked so hard to create these recipes.
The other thing that affects your objectivity over the course of a long night of beer consumption is blood alcohol content (BAC). Alcohol has a tendency to dull your senses, meaning that beers consumed at the end of the night may not taste the same as they would have with a sober palate. There is ample anecdotal evidence of this. All you have to do is consider your favorite “drunk foods.” Would you have eaten that greasy diner breakfast at 3 a.m. if you hadn’t been drinking? That slice of sub-par pizza? That service station hot dog?
The badge system in Untappd can be a fun thing to play with. Since some badges require multiple check-ins of the same beer, I try to check in every beer I drink, even if it isn’t the first time I’m drinking it. You never know when it will earn you a new badge! These multiple check-ins, however, came with their own set of problems.
For a while there, I had noticed a recurring motif in my Untappd usage while logging these repeat beers. You can see the rating that you gave the beer last time, and it turns out that I very seldom agree with my own assessments. Don’t get me wrong; these differences of opinion were not huge. I never felt that a beer I previously rated as a 3.5 actually deserved five stars or that a 4-star beer was actually a 2-star. However, discrepancies ranging from half to three-quarters of a star were not uncommon.
(Read: A Brewery’s Unique Approach to its UnTappd Reviews)
While it is entirely possible that variables in the brewing process can account for some of these differences, I believe that most of my conflict is internal.
I can attribute these variances to several factors: mood, BAC, time of day and even weather. Since I am merely a mildly obsessed beer nerd and not a trained taster, these entirely subjective details always found a way to creep into my ratings. Someone with a BJCP or Cicerone certification can probably tune out these emotional stimuli, but I cannot. I consider setting and mood to be integral parts of my beer-drinking experience, even though I know deep down that including such factors in a rating would be unfair to the beer and its brewers.
One of the first things you see when you check a beer into Untappd is its current average rating. I realized early in my usage of the app, that these averages were often affecting my ratings. If I loved a beer that the general public seemed to consider average, I might subconsciously lower my own rating.
This adjustment toward the center most likely stems from a lack of confidence in my own palate. Those other people must have been tasting something I wasn’t! My insecure brain would play it safe and adjust my score a bit closer to the average, even though most Untappd users are just as untrained and subjective as I am.
I found that a simple way around this was to have a score in my head before I ever opened the app. More often than not, this fixed the problem for me.
Do Untappd Ratings Matter?
In the grand scheme of things, I don’t believe that the average ratings of a beer will end up mattering very much to casual craft beer consumers. It is doubtful that very many people are looking up the Untappd averages of every beer on the bar’s tap list before they order.
Your friends’ individual ratings, which you might see in your Untappd feed or other social media, probably won’t have much impact on your choices either. Let’s be honest here. Most of us are only going to remember the most scathing and most glowing reviews, but even the memory of those will quickly fade. Has anyone ever avoided a beer because Joe only gave it one star on Untappd? I can say with complete certainty that I never have.
(Read: Signs You’re A Little Too Into Craft Beer)
Most people will go into a bar or brewery with some sense of the things they like to drink. If you tell your friends or bartender that you like fruity or hoppy beers, they will help guide you in the right direction. These interactions are part of the reason we go out to these places and are much more helpful, educational, and fun than scrolling through an app for beer suggestions.
Once I realized that I didn’t function well within the 0 – 5 rating system in Untappd, I began to overcompensate. Although I wasn’t consciously aware of it, I began to develop a system to smooth out some of my inconsistencies.
If a beer was absolutely mind-blowing, it still got five stars. All craft beers ranging from “barely drinkable” to “outstanding” landed between 3 and 4 stars. Craft beer “drain pours” received no less than 2 stars, which is a rating that was shared by macro beers that I enjoyed situationally (ex. Corona while eating at a Mexican restaurant). Most premium macro lagers scored around a 1, and anything with “ice” or “light” in the name was less than 1.
When you have a rough idea what rating you are about to give a beer you have never tasted, it’s time to stop rating beers altogether.
Untappd is Not the Problem
I actually enjoy many of Untappd’s features quite a bit and will continue to use them in the future. The problem simply lies within the “good-or-bad” rating system and my inability to properly function within it. Beer is a complex, nuanced and, sometimes, polarizing thing. To boil it down to a simple 0 to 5 ratings is often too vague to describe the experience that any given beer provides (even if you factor in the allotted 140-character comment space).
Untappd isn’t the only beer-tracking app that employs this type of system. BeerMenus incorporates a 1 to 5 star beer rating system, and TapHunter simplifies things even further with only three choices: Great, Drinkable and Not Good.
This good-or-bad phenomenon is prevalent throughout society. Look at movie reviews, for example. Rather than reading long-form reviews, what do we do? We go to Rotten Tomatoes and check the percentage of good reviews that a movie has received. Film is a diverse medium, which often requires much more analysis than a numerical rating, but people still rely on those numbers when choosing their entertainment.
This type of thing is deep-rooted in our modern internet culture. We want our answers as quickly and simply worded as possible so we can get on with our day.
Can It Be Fixed?
I don’t believe that this can or should be fixed. The system does what it is supposed to do. There are definitely ways to make a rating system that better fits my personal preferences, though. A few ideas could be:
- A 1 to 5 scale for perceived hoppiness/bitterness
- Individual rating areas for aroma, color, taste and mouthfeel
- Keep average ratings hidden until after your check-in
If Untappd or apps like it would develop a more comprehensive description and rating system, would anyone use it? Probably not. Chances are that you went to the brewery to socialize with friends. Taking five minutes to check in every single beer you drink would quickly become an annoyance to you and those around you. It’s much more fun to talk about the beer with your cohorts than it would be to answer a lengthy in-app survey.
(Read: Why I’m Done Cellaring Beer)
It would ultimately be a waste of time and resources for an app developer to create functions that the majority of users will ignore.
Moving forward, I will continue to check-in beers with Untappd on a regular basis. The rating system is not essential to my enjoyment of the app, and I am actually happier without it. When I feel the need to discuss a beer at length, I will simply write tasting notes or a complete description. In those formats, it is much easier to convey my thoughts, my feelings or even the impact that a rainy day had on my overall experience.
It’s Not About Ratings
While the system and execution are both flawed in many ways, the core issue is that beer was brewed to be enjoyed. As we’ve stated before, the ratings don’t matter. Put down your phone and engage with your friends, co-workers, the world around you. Stop obsessing over the badges, the check-ins, ticking off every beer on your list, and just enjoy the damn beer. Much like restauranteurs (and South Park) loathing Yelpers, the truth is that breweries often echo the same sentiments regarding those Untappd keyboard warriors just as much. So sure jot down a few notes so you can remember the beer, but join us in putting an end to the ratings, put down the phone and just enjoy your beer.